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What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

“Why should I spend my tourist dollars in a country that wants to throw me in jail?!”

This was our dilemma before setting off for our big travel adventures in Asia – as a gay couple.

If it isn’t illegal (like in Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Maldives, Malaysia, India, Myanmar…), then it’s certainly not truly welcomed (think Indonesia, China or Mongolia).

What's it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

Will you welcome this gay couple into your country?

A few (like Nepal and Vietnam) have taken proactive steps to start to protect their LGBT community instead of criminalising them.

And some have gone further to not only protect their LGBT community, but to embrace, support them and in addition, actively promote gay tourism: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Boracay Philippines

The Mandala Spa on Boracay island in the Philippines used our image to promote their Rainbow Romance package

So as a gay traveller, does that mean you shouldn’t visit countries like India or Myanmar? Are you really under any practical danger visiting a country like Malaysia or the Maldives? Should you take that hard line approach and avoid visiting some of the most beautiful areas of our planet just because of some really archaic, backwards laws?

After over 18 months travelling as a gay couple in Asia, here’s a few lessons we learnt and hope we can relay to all gay travellers in this post:

  1. Ignore the anti-gay laws: as a foreigner you are completely safe!
  2. This is because it’s one rule for locals, another for tourists.
  3. Despite anti-gay laws, it IS ethical to spend money in these countries.
  4. Going out there as a tourist is more effective to their LGBT community then a blanket ban on visiting.
Gay couple travelling in Asia Great Wall of China Mutianyu Beijing

The Nomadic Boys at the Great Wall of China

#1 Ignore the anti-gay laws: as a foreigner you are completely safe!

One common opinion we found in every single country we visited: most people just couldn’t care less about you. Not in a bad way of course. Their priorities are their jobs, family, paying their bills, educating their children, putting food on the table.

No one heterosexual was ever interested in what the Nomadic Boys got up to in the bedroom (or bathtub…!):

Gay couple travelling in Asia bath fun in Hue Vietnam

What could the Nomadic Boys possibly be doing behind closed doors? (Bath fun in Hue, Central Vietnam)

At no stage during our travels in Asia did we ever feel threatened or in danger for being gay.

At worst, the gay club we went to in Delhi was busted by the police at 1am. The policemen were using the anti gay laws to get a bribe from the club promoters. Everyone else was left alone and told to leave via the back door.

Travelling as a gay couple in Asia India tuk tuk Delhi

Look out for those corrupt police in India…any excuse for a bribe!

We are not obviously gay when you first meet us, we don’t mince about waving a rainbow flag, nor do we show any public displays of affection like holding hands or kissing (we don’t do this anyway back home in London/Lyon).

At the very worst, we got the whole“double bed – are you sure?!” or “are you twins/brothers?” type of questions a lot.

Travelling in Asia as a gay couple Jaipur India Rajesthan

Do we really look like brothers? Posing at Jaipur’s City Palace in Northern India

#2 One rule for locals, another for tourists

In every country we visited in Asia, gay tourists are always treated differently compared to LGBT locals.

Our friend Kaluu from Colombo pointed out that whilst homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka, the police almost always turn a blind eye to tourists: no one wants to get involved with foreign embassies if it ever came to that.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Sri Lanka anti gay laws practical implications

Will the Sri Lankan police turn a blind eye if they caught this stolen kiss on Mirissa beach?

In Malaysia, we met many gay locals, really excited to show us round. However, they asked us to not use their name on our blog for fear of negative implications on their work and by their society.

Yet the hotels we worked with throughout Malaysia were delighted to embrace and welcome us as a gay couple and promote pink tourism, like The Four Seasons on Langkawi island who arranged this lovers ritual ceremony for us:

Gay couple travelling in Asia Langkawi island Malaysia

Part of the lover’s ritual following our massage at the Four Seasons Langkawi spa in Malaysia

Tourism is big business, so foreigners will always be given special treatment despite the homophobic laws.

The only exception is Brunei: a tiny country on Borneo island, which is financially independent, funded by oil, so no interest in tourism. And also the autonomous Aceh province in North Indonesia.

In both Brunei and Aceh, extreme Sharia Law applies, so both gay locals and LGBT tourists risk some form of public whipping and/or death by stoning.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Rinca Island Komodo National Park Indonesia

“BAD GAY BOY STEFAN! THAT’S 100 LASHES!” Sebastien demonstrating some of the subtleties of Sharia Law

#3 Despite anti-gay laws, it IS ethical to spend money in these countries

Is it ethical to spend money in countries which criminalise their LGBT communities?

We say a big fat yes of course!

We have been criticised for promoting LGBT travel to countries like the Maldives, Malaysia, Sri Lanka etc, but we always question the true value of a blanket ban on gay tourists visiting such countries.

Gay couple travelling Asia Pingyao China

We say bring on the gay tourism to all of Asia!

The money you spend on holiday mainly goes to the local businesses you are eating at, staying at or touring with.

In other words, the people benefiting are every day people like you and me (maybe straight, maybe gay), who simply want to make a living for themselves, and not the politicians who are creating and promoting anti gay laws.

In most cases, these local businesses probably don’t even agree or care for these laws.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Gay life in Kuala Lumpur continues to strive at Marketplace‘s gay night every Saturday despite Malaysia’s anti-gay laws

Most importantly of all, if you visit a gay owned or gay friendly establishment during your travels, your money helps them flourish in a society, which is likely to be fighting to close them down or make their lives difficult.

Your presence there is invaluable in supporting the local LGBT community and businesses, as well as helping them flourish.

And finally, we strongly believe that meeting and engaging with gay locals is far more productive then refusing to visit their country in the first place.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Bali Joe gay bar Seminyak Bali Indonesia

Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia

#4 So go on and book your flight to Delhi, Male, Colombo etc

We strongly believe boycotting a country like India, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka etc is counter productive.

Actually going out there and supporting LGBT owned businesses and making friends and interacting with the local LGBT community is far more effective then boycotting their country.

Imagine you were in their shoes, would you prefer your gay sisters abroad to ignore you, or come over and embrace and support you?

We sure know what we’d choose.

And you’ll make heaps of friends along the way!

Gay couple travelling in Asia LGBT community Kuching Sarawak Malaysia

Hanging out with our friends in Kuching, Sarawak on the Malaysian side of Borneo island

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What's it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia?

100 Comments

  1. You guys look like you are having way too much fun!!! Enjoy guys 🙂

    Reply
    • We sure try 🙂

      Reply
  2. I have heard that China has a thriving underground scene. Did you get to see any of that while there?

    Reply
    • We sure did- especially in Beijing and Xi’An. In Shanghai however it’s not underground at all and very much out there 🙂

      Reply
  3. You are having a tour of India and having much fun. Glad to have a look at your joyful moments. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Reply
    • Thanks Raj

      Reply
  4. Dang, we missed hosting you guys aboard our sailboat when you were in SE Asia. We soon begin a trip Philippines to SE Asia and lots of people worry too much. We will be stopping in the same countries I used to live before I met my Filipino husband. Malaysia is particularly strange. It was almost as if everyone just attended a seminar on being nice to visitors. Kids shouted out to me from their classrooms as I walked past the school. “Welcome to Malaysia!” The difference between this form of welcome and the welcome received in the USA is startling. Mind you, I don’t go with the crowds and am a rather uncommon site.
    Captain Philip and Noli
    Hot Buoys Sailing

    Reply
    • Nice one boys! Have a great time sailing 🙂

      Reply
  5. is it any different if you are a straight and transgender couple. I know that in Thailand or Philippines the only problems we had was actually in Hotels run by gays who did not want transgenders there. we are thinking of going to Malaysia , attitudes to males seem from your blog to be ok. what about a TG and a Male.

    Reply
    • Hi Greg- we think generally ok as long as you’re discreet and respect local customs. To be clear, I’d call or email the hotel ahead and double check with them if they’re ok with it.

      Reply
  6. I think The gay community in Merida is growing quickly and the members are a big part of the community.

    Reply
    • Mexico is awesome

      Reply
  7. I agree too. And think it’s great that your blog is getting more popular and discussing, not only the destinations, but also these topics. “Travel broadens the mind” – for not only the traveller, but also hopefully for those that they come into contact with! Keep up the good work and happy, gay travels!

    Reply
    • Thanks Paulina

      Reply
  8. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I and my boyfriend are planning to travel to Indonesia this summer. But probably we will make up our minds and go to safer places such as Malaysia or Vietnam.

    Reply
    • Awesome 🙂

      Reply
  9. I agree that traveling in countries where homosexuality is outlawed is perfectly fine. I went on a trip to Uganda to do volunteer work in refugee health clinics. At first, I was concerned about going just for the simple fact that Uganda has such a horrible record when it comes to human rights violations and treatment of gays. But when I got there and started working with the people, I realized what I was doing was bigger than me and the people I was helping were not the ones making the laws.

    I say, go where you want, explore, and hopefully change some opinions along the way.

    Reply
    • Amen to that!!

      Reply
  10. Fred and others — Fred glad to see you settled neat Merida We recently bought a home in Centro Historico because of
    the very sweet attitude of the Merida people in general, specifically the the gay community,
    The gay community in Merida is growing quickly and the members are a big part of the community and they are seen
    as giving and kind!
    Merida needs to be on the next radar as a great place to go to visit if you are gay!
    The Mayan and Latino men are incredible and many are available!!

    Reply
    • Good to know 🙂

      Reply
  11. Thanks for writing such a lovely and informative post. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply
    • 🙂

      Reply
  12. My partner and I will be visiting Malaysia (first time) and Thailand (second) in December 2016. This is how I came across your blog. Like the two of you we have traveled the world, as of now, 26 countries in all. Some as many as 6 times. We have been to numerous Middle East countries (Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia,) and have never had any problems. India, which has laws against gay activity is one of our favorite destinations (five visits)… wonderful people and beautiful country. Our philosophy, we are not “gay” travelers, we are travelers. Conduct yourselves with dignity and there will be no issues in any country.

    Reply
    • Nice one George- thanks for the comment 🙂

      Reply
  13. Came across your blog and I just love it. what you say is very true..Being a Malaysian myself, the gay life here is interesting… Since this is a Muslim country, the people are very accommodating. In fact the local don’t really care if you are straight or gay ….. to them what you do in the bedroom is nothing concern with them ….. Do let me know if you are visiting Malaysia again…..would love to meet you ….

    Reply
    • Thanks Alan! Sure will 🙂

      Reply
  14. I totally agree with you , me and my bf r in same situation we’ve been to some anti gay countries we almost even got arrested once ( I wrote a book about it haha) and since then he got scared now he inky wanna travel to safe countries but I’m going to show him your blog he might change his mind, the funny thing is that we are too nomads ( working on it ) and going to travel the world we already seen few countries and this summer ( by August ) we will travel to spain+ norway+ Brazil + canary island+ some Asia countries maybe or more Europe , I will be so happy if we get to meet some day , maybe this Sumer if you guys traveling to any country
    I love your blog btw

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Thanks Anas! We may see you later this year in Gran Canaria or Brazil 🙂

      Reply
      • I can’t wait :p

        Reply
        • 🙂

          Reply
  15. So true! Especially the part about going to local gay own establishments and supporting them. I very much agreed with you. I was in Philippines and while I was in a big group which did help, everyone we met was pretty cool about me being gay. Several of my Filipino friend’s aunts wanted me to set up on dates with their gay friends haha. I was slightly worried about my upcoming work trip to India, but I do feel a bit better about it now 🙂

    xoxo

    Reply
    • Amazing – LOVE the Filipinos for this 🙂

      Reply
      • hahaha i love Filipinos!!! Food and people are so good. I can totally see myself going back and won’t say no to a hot Pinoy hubby hahaha. I’m so glad I discovered your blog, its been very enjoyable reading it.

        Reply
        • Thanks!

          Reply
  16. I agree with you. I (for the most part, I’m sure I could think of exceptions) don’t see the sense in boycotting countries for human rights issues- like you say, the money you spend goes towards local people trying to look after their families and the more people that travel to a country, the more open it becomes. There’s a new tv series with Ellen Page and she is travelling around finding out what it’s like to be gay in different countries. It’s a really interesting twist on a travel show.

    Reply
    • Thanks Joella 🙂

      Reply
  17. wow guys i was wondering about that , and that experiences is really greatful !

    hope i meet you one day somewhere in Asia.

    Thank u!

    Tom

    Reply
    • Our pleasure Tom – and hope to meet you too 🙂

      Reply
  18. Great post! I was always wondering about the gay or lesbian scene in Asia, especially in countries like Sri Lanka and India. Glad you guys show that it is possible and that locals didn’t care much.
    ‘t c

    Reply
    • Thanks Melanie 🙂

      Reply
  19. Extremely good-looking couple! Love the blog and found it on the web from Jakarta, looking for things to do.

    Reply
    • Thanks Keith

      Reply
  20. Awesome insight. 🙂
    and yeah loved the Pic of ( Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia )
    THAT BIG EYES 😉
    keep posting …
    Cheers.!!!

    Reply
    • He he he

      Reply
  21. I loved the post! While I don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated like that, but I think it’s amazing you guys are shedding light on the whole situation. It’s pretty awesome that some countries are even promoting gay travel. One day, we’ll all have our heads out of our asses and we won’t have to worry about this. Until then, keep it coming guys!

    Reply
    • Thanks Joe 🙂

      Reply
  22. You guys look like you are having way too much fun!!! 😉 There will always be people who have issues with sexual orientation, religion, cultures, race, technology, lifestyles etc etc. This is part of why we travel; To cross borders and break barriers. We do it for ourselves first, to stay open minded but we also share our stores to open the minds of others. Writing great post like this is your part in opening people’s minds. For those who want to keep there minds closed…piss off . Don’t let them ruin your fun. 😉

    Reply
    • Awww thank a lot for your lovely comment Chris 🙂

      Reply
  23. I think it’s important to still visit countries that aren’t as gay friendly, not just to support the local LGBT community, but to also let the rest of the locals see that anyone should be welcome in the country no matter what their sexuality.

    Reply
    • Thanks guys

      Reply

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